Saturday, January 31, 2009

Braddock Demontage

NY Times on that which we call Braddock: Rock Bottom for Decades, but Showing Signs of Life. Also 7.5 minutes of video go along with it.

Maybe I will comment more later, but for the most part I have said my piece. Some earlier comments and links to a Braddock documentary are in an earlier post. And as commented on by Potter at the City Paper, CBS ran its own bit on Braddock as well recently.

For some trivia and further proof that everything is connected in this town... what are we pointing at in the Cleveland TV news video mentioned in the previous post?

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Cleveland doting

Well, just for fun here is a little more Cleveland doting. See their local TV news on the Pittsburgh story. and yes, that is a brief cameo there just for fun. The text blurb is here, but here is the video:



Actually Cleveland is kind of holding it's own for the moment. It's unemployment rate went up just a tad, from 7.3% in November to 7.4% in December. For contrast, Detroit is in freefall going from 10% in November, shooting up more than a full percentage point to 11.1% in December. We will learn Pittsburgh's unemployment rate for December on Wednesday. Pending that, here is what the Rust Belt Watch graph looks like. You just have to believe that Detroit trend has to plateau before things settle down. It really is kind of scary to imagine what if one or more of the big three literally shut down.

Unemployment Rates: Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Detroit MSA's - Jan 2000 to present

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Football, race and Steelermania

It's an optimistic view, but from the Kansas City Star is: In these times, Tomlin’s age is more of a factor than his race. I wish the reality were as true as that headline implies. I do wonder whether football, or maybe it's just support for the Steelers, represents one small thing Black and White come together on in Pittsburgh. You will hear Monday morning debates over how the Steelers performed, good or bad, in Garfield just as you will in Brookline and everyone is wearing a Steelers jersey these days.

***
Even Bloomberg covers the story on how Pittsburghers are like Salmon returning home for the game which we all know is actually in Tampa. The story notes that the temperature will be 30 here tomorrow. I think the ground truth is 15 today.

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Friday, January 30, 2009

City Council a go go

So I hear a rumor there is a city council race coming up.. several in fact. Not only a special election next week for District #2, but contested elections in several city council districts. Which just got me thinking about how different city council districts are. Here is something worth thinking about, Districts 2 and 4 which are getting the most buzz because there are no incumbents running in either are at least relatively the districts most likely to vote Republican. At least in the results from November, if not by registration.

Here is how Obama did in both the General and Primary elections last year brokendown by City of Pittsburgh Council District. Obama did win every city council district in the general, but only in District 4 did he fall below 60%. In the primary election Obama won 6 of 9 districts, and again district 4 came in with the lowest Obama support at just over 30%.
I will let others ponder what it means, but the lesson may just be that city council districts are not peas in a pod.

Percentage Obama - November 2008 General Election by City Council District in the City of Pittsburgh


Percentage Obama - April 2008 Primary Election by City Council District in the City of Pittsburgh




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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Evening minutia

NY Freakonomics Blog on: Ten Reasons to Like the Pittsburgh Steelers. Note the comments including one angry Seahawks fan. Time to get over it. Reason #3 no less is simply Myron Cope. Unsurprisingly Myron gets his own writeup in the NYT as well: For Terrible Towels, a Wonderful Legacy. For those who want more, remember NPR's audio piece on our great Neologist.

Not everyone loves us though. It's not a Forbes list per se, but they are reporting on what an anonymous commenter pointed out this afternoon. A new Pew Research Center report (online appears to be the embargoed draft) on what regions are perceived as better, or worse, places to live. Cleveland-doting and NYTimes article not withstanding the Pittsburgh brand still needs a lot of work.

That really is not so surprising. I am pretty sure that a lot of the positive PR the region gets lately results when someone out there learns a positive factoid about the Pittsburgh region and it strikes a chord of cognitive dissonance (apologies to E.H.) because it is so unbelievable. It just does not compute for a lot of folks out there, especially those who only know some past superficial. Note my blog filter today caught the well educated Pragmatic Pediatrician with this quote:

it's shocking to realize the numbers of people moving from industrial cities like Detroit, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh.

What do you say? Someone didn't get the memo, or read the NY Times. Old memories die hard.

Speaking of Detroit, or at least Michigan. It takes a lot to spook me, but in the "Northeast Lower Michigan" region the unemployment rate has gone from 12.1 in November to over 15% in December. see page 6. Detroit's regional unemployment has gone up by more than another full percentage point, from 10% in November to 11.1% in December.

and just in case we lose sight of some pretty important things between the cold and Super Bowl news. North Versailles is out of cash and that municipal workers "will not be paid for up to eight weeks", yet asks them to keep working in the hope they will get paid down the road. Is North Versailles even in Act 47 status?

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Steeler nation factoids

Might as well surrender and keep it all Steelers all the time for now.

In the CP Potter comments on the seemingly subdued Super Bowl fever this time around. (will add link when CP puts it online). He has a point, but has anyone noticed just how cold it has been? I think everything has been subdued of late just trying to trudge through the snow, ice, sleet and associated muck. That and we are allowed to be a little bit jaded: One for the Other Thumb is not as pressing an issue as it might be.

But he did highlight a quote in the PG I didn't catch. Speaking of the large number of Steelers Bars and fans out in Arizona they quote a denizen out there who thought:

that Allegheny County sent more residents to Phoenix's Maricopa County than any other in America.
So I say of course: really? Never really heard that myself. So I took a look at the numbers and low and behold the answer is No, but it really is almost true. With data from the IRS for migration between 1992 through 2007 I looked at where folks leaving Allegheny County went to. You have to ignore the counties nearby which are at the top of the list, but that isn't the point. So if you exclude all Pennsylvania Counties here is the list I get for the top counties for the cumulative out-migration from Allegheny County 1992-2007:

Cuyahoga County, OH - 5,431
Maricopa County, AZ - 5,211
Franklin County, OH - 4,778
Cook County, IL - 4,469
Fairfax County, VA - 4,393
Los Angeles, CA - 4,124
Mecklenburg County, NC - 4,075
Montgomery County, MD - 3,549
Manhattan (New York County, NY) - 3,495
Broward County, FL - 3,477

So next to Cuyahoga County, i.e. Cleveland, it really is almost true that Maricopa County is at the top. If we went back further (which I don't have easy data to use) it could easily be that Maricopa County is number one. And this type of data only looks at a single migration decision. Given that a fair number of folks from Cleveland (and other places, just using the example) later move on to places like Maricopa County... it could easily be the case that there are more born Pittsburgher's in Maricopa County than anywhere else in the nation.

If that list looks different from anything you have seen from me in the past, this is county level data which comes out a bit different. So only people leaving Allegheny County broken down by the county that they went to. Maybe I will slice it some other ways before the end of the week.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Obligatory Steelers Post


OK.. you gotta follow along. I thought it would only be a cultural comment that even a publication as boring as Reliable Plant Magazine has a story: The story behind the steel logo on Steelers' helmet. Think about it; if I call a magazine boring.


But then I do the Pittsburgh read of what the magazine writes about. What do I find? Last week they ran a story: Tech salary survey reveals conflicted job market that has a list of metro regions ranked by the largest annual salary increases. . . and. . . Pittsburgh comes in 3rd with a 11.9% increase between 2007 and 2008. A good sign, but tempered a bit by the fact that the we don't show up on the list of where salaries are actually highest. But double digit increases can lead to convergence with other regions pretty quickly if sustained.

Back to the Steelers:

Not news here, but most know about the remake that was made of the classic Joe Green/Coca Cola ad. You really want to read AdFreak's post on the new version featuring Troy Polamalu which has some supplemental stuff including YouTube on the original actor in the commercial. Also from AdFreak is a post on the worst Superbowl Ad ever. It really is so bad that you have to watch it.
Finally the Steelers logo. So we all know they are hypocycloids which must make that the single best known geometry fact in Western Pennsylvania. We must teach in grade school the fact that the Steelers logo was once the logo of the US Steel industry itself and even the story about how the Steelers came to display the logo on only one side of the helmet. Less well known is who designed the actual logo. US Steel technical writer David Ross.
Just wondering. What is Steely up to?

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

stimulus inbound

I somehow missed the specifics on this. But according to the Center for American Progress the amount of money that is allocated to Pennsylvania in the Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act is slated to be over $22Billion. If you click on their map you get this slightly more specific breakout:
"Total Allocated to the state: $22.07 billion

11.28% is set aside to balance the state budget. The rest is marked for specific programs and tax cuts. "

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Pittsburgh and the world

More Detroit-Pittsburgh comparisons. From Crain's Detroit Business: Detroit's 'obituary' is being rewritten.

and it's just a half sentence, but even the Financial Times points out Pittsburgh in a global look at where regional investments are expected to fare better and worse in 2009.

and for the most random news reference of the week. The USAToday uses us as a reference to explain the size of Iceland when it says:
Iceland, a country of 304,000 people — slightly less populous than Pittsburgh — saw its banking system grow in the last decade to nine times its economic output, fueled largely by deposits and investments from abroad in a major retooling of its economy.

Which makes me wonder several things. Is it the Superbowl that puts Pittsburgh on the tip of every writer's pen? Are the Toledo powers that be upset they were not used as the reference to the size of a sovereign nation? Who would Iceland appeal to if they thought their official population count was too small? Why do they not get mad that they are perceived as smaller than Toledo? But with only a marginal bit of seriousness... consider that Iceland recently received over $2 Billion in loans from the International Monetary Fund. Maybe the City can appeal to the same source for assistance with it's debt and pension liability. $2 billion might just do it.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Mysterious inflation in Pittsburgh

P-I-A-C caught this quote from the Port Authority portending a possible fare increase at the end of the year. From the PG is this quote explains that....

A fare increase "in line with inflation" is likely Jan. 1 in any event, he said.

Inflation? The financial world is so screwed up these days that you have some people hoping for inflation. I just have to wonder, does anyone at the Port Authority read the financial news? Inflation is virtually nonexistent of late. Officially, inflation in all of 2008 was 0.1%. * Note the decimal point. So an increase 'in line with inflation' of PAT's $2 base fare would go up to $2.01. If you look at PAT's disproportionate fuel costs there is rampant deflation. Wholesale diesel costs are down like 66% from their peak last year and down significantly from their year ago prices. Even if they think that statement applies to their capital expenditures, by most accounts construction costs are falling as well. Most of that decrease in fuel prices across the board have yet to work their way through the supply chain as best I read.. so nothing about to change real soon.

Gonna have to have the PR folks come up with a better explanation than that if they want to raise fares. That or else riders might hold Bland to that promise and expect fares to be lowered next year if deflation shows up as some expect.

* I'm giving that the benefit of the doubt. The seasonally adjusted All Urban Consumers CPI is actually down year over year in December. But by any metric you choose, inflation in the last quarter of 2008 was more like deflation at a double digit annualized rate.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Carbolic worthy commentary....

... from one of the oldest, if most infrequent, Burghosphere blogs. Read Souf Oakland For Life's comments on how the Pirates boldly predicted a return to the world series in 1996. There really has to be some CSB fodder in that.

There isn't any football today?

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

2009: Year of the Cello?

If 2008 was year of the Billboard locally, 2009 might be the year of the Cello. KDKA ran a video segment last week on Former Business Partners Want Katz Extradited all about failed local developer and Brazilian cellist Bernardo Katz. It's all such an odd story. If he just did some more flamboyant crime this really would be fodder for a movie. Development fraud is just a bit too mundane. It is funny to realize that it was just not very long ago when Bernardo Katz was being hailed as some form of urban innovator in his efforts to rejuvenate urban spaces with a dramatic impact on the city's Beechview neighborhood. Sort of like the economy, you never can predict how fast things can turn around. Who would have guessed that Pittsburgh would be the origin of a rare cellist on the lam. As an anonymous commenter over on the ADB blog has pointed out, at least he has not had to give up his music of late.

The buzz of course being generated by news accounts of a Federal grand jury investigating the former Pittsburgh real estate developer and cellist. At this point I am unaware of any criminal charges hanging over him. Plenty of civil actions I read, but I am pretty sure you can't start arresting folks, let alone extraditing them, on civil complaints.

Assuming the grand jury does hand down a criminal indictment then things get a little interesting. Going back to KDKA's headline... There is indeed an extradition treaty between Brazil and the US which includes potential extradition for fraud and bankruptcy fraud charges which would seem to apply. BUT, the treaty explicitly says that a country is not obliged to hand over its own nationals. Read this clause:

There is no obligation upon the requested State to grant the extradition of a person who is a national of the requested State, but the executive authority of the requested State shall, subject to the appropriate laws of that State, have the power to surrender a national of that State if, in its discretion, it be deemed proper to do so.

So they could hand him over if they really wanted to, but have no obligation to do so if he is a Brazilian citizen. I am presuming Katz is still a Brazilian citizen, but have no info on it either way. Just seems to me that this all may not rise to the level that the Brazilian government feels they need to go out of their way to hand him over. There is also an exception in the treaty to handing over people who are being prosecuted for political reasons. I would just speculate that if push comes to shove the first line of defense Katz would use is that he is caught in some political infighting here more than anything else. Even if that is not credible here, it could make some sense to Brazilian officials especially given how odd the circumstances are. Believe me when I tell you folks in a lot of the world just don't understand what counts as scandalous in the US.

The only reason to go into that is because I have to believe the improbability of actually getting Katz himself would play into the US Attorney's office to pursue the matter. That, plus the improbability Katz will ever be able to make restitution in any way would be another factor. If the focus is not really Katz then it comes down to all the local actors who will be caught up in this.

So why care about the fellow and maybe we should focus on picking up the pieces and moving forward. Federal attorney's offices are not the largest of offices and you have to believe what they spend time on is chosen with intent. Some speculation I have is not even worthy of blogging yet, but I wonder if the ongoing investigation already has tentacles in some seemingly unrelated news stories of late, some local and some far. The potential implications for a number of folks still active in town are all hanging out there. If only Katz had tried to put some billboards on his properties the story would be complete.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Desperately Seeking Stimulus

I honestly mostly wrote this post weeks ago but never got around to finishing it.. and now it looks like the Port Authority is ahead of me. I would have looked far more prescient if I put it up earlier.

I know everyone is planning for how to use the big infrastructure stimulus tsunami that is in the works. It is worth keeping in mind that the little caveat about being 'shovel ready' is not just a minor detail. Not many things we might want to get built are really that ready to get started anytime soon. Can anyone say "environmental impact statement"? The first big push of things that are really ready to be funded soonest will be a small small subset of any larger wish list. I really bet that the first projects that get $$ pushed to them will surprise many folks.

So just one example, take the Trib's recent mention of how the regions 3rd Maglev project is now focused on selling itself as being truly 'shovel ready'. The 3rd maglev project you ask? No not the big Maglev in the sky that was to connect Greensburg, Pittsburgh and the Airport, and no not even the slow Maglev project which is the local project to connect the Hill District with Downtown... but the 3rd which is a people mover type system for the campus of California University of PA. Think it's a bit far fetched? Folks at CUP don't think so. Could shovel ready rule?


Which leads to the Port Authority and the 2nd most controversial transportation project in town*. Are not the most shovel ready projects the ones where the shovels are already digging? That just came to mind reading the coverage on the current state of the North Shore connector where the tunnel-digger is about to finish its journey back under the Allegheny. One point always covered is whether the project is on or over budget. I was just thinking how the whole issue of funding the remainder of the NSC is almost moot. Given the mad rush to find shovel ready infrastructure projects it is nearly impossible that the NSC connector will not be finished at this point. If there is a big shortfall then you have to think that any marginal funding needed to complete a project that is 80-90% finished will be first on the list when the new Federal expenditures start to flow. You might as well claim you are broke to get at the front of the line.... and it looks to me like the Port Authority powers that be were thinking the same thing of late.

Which leads to a further thought. The North Shore Connector has been scaled back several times because of funding cuts and escalating costs. Would it not make sense for the Port Authority to try and leverage new infrastructure investment and put back some of the features that have been gutted from the project.. not the least of which was access to the actual North Side neighborhoods it's supposed to service. The new spur was supposed to extend to the vicinity of the West End Bridge and include 4 new stations built along with the tunnel. Right now I think the plan is just for three new stations and ending short.

Those apoplectic over anything related to the NSC have stopped reading by now, but think about it. A lot of the public antipathy for the project is because it has been scaled back to the point it is hard to justify its existence. Well.... now would be the time to put back the original vision to include the new stations that were planned, or even start to extend the spur toward the airport which was really the original goal or maybe even that spur that would head north toward commuter-hub Cranberry. Even if you are opposed to the whole NSC concept, the fact is that the costliest parts of the project are almost done. The tunnel was the expensive part. At this point does it not make sense to get as much use of the new tunnel as possible? That would mean extending the new line as far as possible and not keeping the minimalist station plan that was forced upon the project by funding constraints. In economic terms, the big fixed cost is already sunk (literally) and the marginal cost of getting the best bang for the buck is a lot lower.

So I am saying: McKees Rocks or bust for the T. For the unbelievers, just keep repeating to yourself: 'shovel ready'.

* No, #1 isn't skybus anymore. Even Pittsburghers' memories start to dull a bit after nearly 40 years. MFE will top the list for some time, whether it ever gets built to completion or not.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Real estate wrap up - 2008

Let's see what is up with Pittsburgh real estate. The report making the rounds is that Moody's ranks Pittsburgh commercial real estate market #1 across the nation. Good news I suppose. At least it made the news here. It does not end there... per Grubb and Ellis, Pittsburgh was near the top (#5) in the net absorption of real estate here in 2008. It's a lot of data points piling up for even the most cynical.

But what I like better is that we finally have end of year foreclosure stats for the region. In the beginning of 2008, these stats were making monthly news, but we have not heard much in recent months. I was going to go back and regurgitate the quotes that made it to ink from earlier in the year all but promising a record year for foreclosures. What do we get per the PBT:
In the five-county Pittsburgh region, 3,949 home were foreclosed upon last year, down slightly from 4,229 in 2007, according to RealSTATs.

So foreclosures went down? Must be a typo, but hold that thought. What is a tad curious is the phrase 'down slightly'. My math says the number of foreclosures is down 6.6%. For most economic trends a change in an annual rate that high would be a high number. Maybe it was anomalous with 2007 a record bad year, so a slight decline nothing to be excited about. Yet 2007 was not a record year and according to the same source foreclosures were 2.1% lower than the year before that even. That didn't make the headline. I wonder how many regions in the nation have had two consecutive years of declining foreclosures. At the very least, sub 4000 foreclosures in a year is the lowest in at least the last few years and look to be trending downward.

Real estate values even went up in the region for 2008. Not much, +1% according to the RealStats data being reported on, but in a world where double digit declines last year were better than most regions could even hope for, that's pretty good.

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Even the Census gnomes watch the Superbowl

The census weighs in with the facts that separate Pittsburgh and Phoenix. Over on Pittsblog I muse on just how disimilar we are.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Economic collapse like none before

A sure sign of economic Armageddon. The prices of Superbowl tickets have collapsed. How cheap are they? Down to $3,300 per seat according to the AP. Time to break out the Spam.

And add the msm in Florida to those with an upbeat perspective on the state of the Pittsburgh economy. See this editorial from the Miami Herald today.

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forecasting unemployment

The US Conference of Mayors has a new report: "American Recovery And Reinvestment: The Role Of Metro Areas". Included in the report are forecasts of potential recession impacts across all metro areas. For Pittsburgh it predicts net employment loss to be 18K jobs and that the unemployment rate will go up to 7.1% by the end of 2009. Worse than now, but better than the rate a lot of other regions are expected to peak at. Not quite sure how much local info goes into these broad forecasts, but it is a data point.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

FiatUSA?

It feels like hubris to try and comment on the inauguration in any way, that and I have not had time to actually watch it yet. So on more mundane topics having nothing to do with Pittsburgh: Given the news that Fiat is buying into Chrysler, possibly as a prelude to buying it outright... my next car may just be the retro Fiat 500. Even has a diesel version. Some reviews say the diesel version gets 67mpg. I figure the commercial endorsement is ok since it actually isn't something you can buy in the US. At least not easily.

back to our regular programming.....

only because I find it odd any local tech news is reported elsewhere first... the local tech-PR nexus is about as hyperactive as it gets for any local fodder. Read the news from Canada covering a local tech lab that blends defense research, nanotechnology and... golf clubs?

Canada... how about this for a segue. Come and hear the Canadian ambassador to the US speak at an Economic Club luncheon Downtown next month. Canada is Pennsylvania's only international border.

More of a Pittsburgh-Canada connection than you think. Pittsburgh once provided the US with a native son to serve as ambassador to Canada. Read about McKeesport's Adolph Schmidt. If Jason T. does not already have that documented somewhere I want a prize.

Ok.. can't connect this any way. But the latest PMI report is out on the risk of regional housing price depreciation. See their Winter 2009 report which still has Pittsburgh at essentially unmeasurable unmeasurably small risk for real estate depreciation in the future. Quibble with the veracity of that if you wish, but this is important to the mortgage underwriters which makes it a concrete metric for those in the market for new mortgages here.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

No indifference over Pittsburgh

With prescient timing, Jerry B. had an oped in the WSJ just before the game: "Sports Mania Is a Poor Substitute for Economic Success" taking Pittsburgh to task in a lot of ways. Looks like a reaction to the more positive press the region has been getting of late from a lot of places, the likes of the NYT, or the Cleveland Plain Dealer, or even earlier last year from the Detroit Free Press which had it's own in depth look at economic story of Pittsburgh, and other coverage I will not list (but remember the piece in the Economist).

Which reminds me of something I have noticed for a long time: Folks from outside of Pittsburgh are far more positive in their analysis of the Pittsburgh economy than most in town are. I don't just mean the media coverage alone, but academics, politicians, economic development professionals and all sorts of people exhibit the same pattern in less public ways. Not true all the time of course, lots of diverse opinions out there.... but it really is true to a large degree. Not quite sure what it means and you could spin it two ways. We know ourselves better than others could be one argument I have heard, or maybe we are that much less objective at understanding our own region. No matter really, but for sure there are few people indifferent in their opinions about Pittsburgh.

But let the Phoenix-Pittsburgh comparisons begin! And for sure Jerry was right. Mania we got.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

more Pittsburgh real estate and stuff

Trib runs a Bloomberg column: Pittsburgh good bet for home buy. It's not just for residential real estate. The WSJ reports on some data that shows Pittsburgh currently has the single highest rate of rental growth.

Jim R (aka BurghDiaspora Return to Pittsburgh blogger, gets a mention from Joel Kotkin in his weekly Forbes column today. Joel describes Jim as a "Pittsburgh based" blogger. That isn't exactly right, but but not wrong either. Jim is kind of an omni-region kind of guy.

Be on the look out for Ravens fans who may be attempting to sneak into Heinz field.

How much do the problems in the auto industry affect Pennsylvania? The local Steel Valley Authority worked with the state to come up with a number. See coverage of the analysis in the Central Penn Business Journal.

and no scapegoating in San Diego. Read their poll results on why the fans think the Chargers lost to the Steelers.

The AP is passing on the PG's story that the mayoral primary may be crowded. That sounds familiar.

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Monday, January 12, 2009

GLUEnews via Detroit

Just FYI: From Crain's Detroit Business is some coverage of the partially Pittsburgh-bred Great Lakes Urban Exchange.

and someting else from business news elsewhere that is not connected to that by anything other than the Pittsburgh connection. The Observer in the UK has a profile of former Heinz Chairman Sir Anthony O'Reilly that is worth a read.

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Carpe Trigonem*

This was my trailing comment the other day, but it deserves a post unto itself. Does anyone doubt that Myron played a roll in the Titans loss to the Ravens. First the Titans stomp on the Terrible Towel in a way that almost got Bill Cowher to return to coaching. If anyone saw him on the CBS post-game following the Steelers loss to the Titans it was a real Pittsburgh moment. He is nowadays a semi-objective network pundit, but for a brief moment the jaw was out and there may have even been some spit spewing forth. Some in the Volunteer State, including the Titans' head coach, realized quickly the magnitude of what happened.

Think about it, the top seed team lost to the last seed team because of a series of completely out of character fumbles and interceptions, most of which were well into their opponents territory. Low probability events happen, but Myron out there might have facilitated a few of those loose balls.

I really think it was not just the disrespect over the Terrible Towel itself which was not much beyond the emotion of the game... But then apparently the Titans felt they could emulate the idea. For their game against the Ravens they gave out thousands of their own light blue towels to everyone. One version was even named the "Titans Towel" which is like the sound nails can make against chalkboards. If they thought they were being cute they missed the point. The San Diego crowd for their part, has more clue. Read San Diego's coverage of what the Terrible Towel really means. The Titans organization seems to think the Terrible Towel is not much more than a marketing gimmick.

If I were them, the Titans organization really needs to send a donation to the Allegheny Valley School if there is any hope of getting past the bad karma.

The real score of that game:

Myron 13 - Titans 10

* OK, I thought that translates to Seize the ball, but I am not so sure. Don't trust the internet for everything. Anyone know better? Carpe follis?

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and who exactly are you Mr. Blogger?

Bram has just written more about Pittsburgh ICA executive director Henry Sciortino than has ever been written on him in the past, including both his time as ICA director and even his past life as the City's assistant finance director and treasurer in the 1980's. Need to actually classify that post under Dewey 920. But what I got a kick out of was the description of Mr. Sciortino's main question back at Bram. As Bram puts it:

"... Sciortino cordially asked us the occasion of our interest in his at-times tumultuous professional history."
Too funny. Bram should have just said he works on those inter-tubes.

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

What would Sally say?

When does that Forbes list come out ranking the best places for young people? It better come out soon or else folks will start to think even they like us, they really do like us. Just in the last week Forbes has Pittsburgh listed at or near the top for both job growth and housing market strength.

and more fallout from the NYT piece on Pittsburgh. Freakonomics is amazed that anyone could write a story about Pittsburgh and not mention the Steelers. We agree. Also, Pittsburgh's more regular mole close to the NYT hierarchy, Holly Brubach, writes about Dick LeBeau in theNYT as well. Think those stories are unconnected? LeBeau-Steelers-Brubach-Housing..... I hate to ask, but I wonder if the Granite building has been able to sell its units?

so my obligatory Steelers musings.....

Game is going to be cold at kickoff. Those who have been to San Diego know that such temps are not ever thought of out there. It might hit 80 today even (in SD that is). However cold it gets Sunday, I was at the AFC Championship game in 2005. The news account says it was 11 degrees at kickoff on the field back then. As night went on it must have gotten colder and at altitude (i.e. section 530ZZ or something like that where I was) it must have been more than a few degrees colder. I was completely numb so I can't even guess what the temperature was by the end of the game. I am sure someone has this info at their fingertips, but I wonder what the coldest Steelers game ever was? I remember watching on TV a game in Cincinnati when I was a kid that had some temperature so low it was a real health issue for the players.

BTW... if there is anyone out there looking to part with tickets to the potential Steelers game in Nashville for a semi-reasonable price.. send me an email. Seriously. Well, forget that. Titans got what they deserved not just for stomping on the Terrible Towel, but for distributing those blue towels to everyone. Bad karma and they just don't get it. Myron himself probably kicked a few of those balls loose. Turnovers like that don't just happen to top seed teams. Really.

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Friday, January 09, 2009

new math, Pittsburgh, bond ratings and why it isn't surprising that the wall street analysts got it all wrong

Let's not say I don't point out positive things about Pittsburgh's debt. News just out is that Fitch has actually upgraded the bond rating for the city of Pittsburgh's outstanding debt. No joke.

They must have been reading the NYT. I wish that were a joke. It's worth pointing out that I notice a lot of haranguing over the NYT piece that was quite positive about Pittsburgh. What Pittsburgh? Lets be clear, the NYT was talking for the most part about the Pittsburgh region. I think the city has a lot of good stories to tell, but nothing in the NYT piece addressed specific fiscal issues for the City. Does that diminish what the NYT was talking about? No. The city and its financial miasma is just one small piece of the region. City = ~300K population. The region however you want to define it is 2 - 2.3-2.5 maybe even 3 million folks if you want to define 'greater Pittsburgh' wide enough. You just can't mix and match the two Pittsburgh's the way many folks jump to doing all the time.

That said, here is the deal on the Fitch ratings which is only talking about the City of Pittsburgh debt, and only one part of that debt even. They 'explain' their upgrade of the city's bond rating with this quote among others:
Like many older urban areas, Pittsburgh's economy has been challenged for decades by declining population. The decline appears to be abating; the 2007 estimated population was 7% below the 2000 census figure, after declining 9.5% during the 1990s. The unemployment rate remains low at 5.3% in September 2008 close to state and national levels. Education and health services represent a high 20% of MSA jobs providing some long-term economic stability. City per capita and median household income level indicators in 2006 were strong, at or above state and national averages. (emphasis added)

Lawyers and journalists I can forgive for sometimes getting confused by numbers, but when financial analysts do things like this I just get scared. Let's think about this. 7% population decline over 7 years = 1%/year. That compares to the less favorable (according to Fitch) 9.5% decline over 10 years. I mean... but... help me please. It can't be the case that the poor Fitch folks are challenged by the use of division. I think 9.5%/10= .95% / year which works out a bit better than 7%/7 years = 1% per year of population decline. Yeah, yeah, I know.. compounding as well should be factored in, but the point is still the same.

Yes, I know both the current population estimates and even the 2000 census numbers have some error. The current estimates are surely going to be different from what we think when we get new census numbers in just a couple years, but that is even more to the point.. there is no evidence I am aware of that the population decline in the city of Pittsburgh proper has abated much of late. The numbers Fitch cites would seem to show accelerating population loss, not any abatement. Anyone who has seen the vacancy stats in several city neighborhoods would not question the core trend. and if you want further proof, just go look at what is happening to the demographic-driven enrollment trends in the City of Pittsburgh school district which are plummeting ever faster in just recent years.

They have a further quote:
the city's combined pension funded ratio was only 35.9% as of September 2008, which does not incorporate a reduction in the assumed rate of return on investments to 8% from 8.75%. While the city funds its annually required contributions, actual investment returns have declined significantly and it is not expected that funding ratios will reach satisfactory levels for some time.
I would love for them to calculate what 'some time' means. But given the use of math above I really wonder what they would come up with. Seriously, 35.9% in September. September? I think we know what happened to the stock market in October and November. In their cloistered number crunching, the Fitch folks also seem to have not read the local news on the current state of the pension fund. Short answer: it's not 35.9% currently and trending downward if anyone is curious.

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bonds and the bear

The NY Times has what may be the explanation into what those pesky US Attorneys have really been up to around the country. Could it all have to do with municipal bonds?

Bonds? We have bonds? I have a lot of thoughts on the local bond scene you know, but no time to recompile them here. The general tone of the NYT piece does remind me to check if the video of Lawrence Lessig's visit to Pitt a few months ago is online yet. It is and available here.

What does Lessig have to do with the NY Times story on municipal bonds? If you are a believer in good government, transparent government or anything in between you want to watch Lessig's stump speech. Trust me.

And the Bear? No, it's not a Greg Evigan reference. Watch the whole Lessig lecture to the end.

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Thursday, January 08, 2009

Pittsburgh-nation

I pulled this graphic earlier for possible blog-fodder, but I see like minds are ahead of me. Jim R. already mentioned how popular theNYT article is. Most of Thursday the NYT's 'most popular' list looked like this:



And just because I see #10 is about Denver. I am reminded that we all need to be kind to the visiting reporters that will be coming to town for the San Diego game. Who can forget our BFF from Colorado: Denver's Bill Johnson and his infamous columns about Pittsburgh before and after the 2006 AFC Championship game. It's just such a Pittsburgh story.

Johnson was not the first journalist to be inspired to write about Pittsburgh because of a football game. Not to mention this because of my own quote in there, but worth a read is a column written by Seattle's Bill Virgin leading up to the Superbowl a few weeks after Johnson's piece. It's a diaspora story as well actually. I forget the specifics, but I think Mr. Virgin told me at the time he was from near Pittsburgh in West Virginia.

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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Detroit on the mind

Never fear, I am not going anywhere for now.... but I will be putting some of my thoughts over in Pittsblog 2.0. See what Mike and I and maybe some others down the road have to say on things Pittsburgh.

I have just put a post over there on some Detroit thoughts on my mind, also a link to the New York Times article just out on the state of Pittsburgh's economic restructuring. See the comments from my colleague Sabina in the article. I am typing this in what must be one of the few Starbucks in the US that does not sell a New York Times so I can't see what the article looks like in print. Expect the NYT to follow that story up with some video soon.

To balance that with something positive about Detroit. Check out a project at Wayne State University where the internet meets philology. Worth a look:

http://www.wordwarriors.wayne.edu/

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Econ Club Forecast Luncheon - Reserve Now

Should be a big turnout for the Economic Club's 2009 Annual Economic Forecast Luncheon


What can we expect to see in the New Year? Join us for a spirited discussion by a panel of nationally recognized experts presenting their outlooks on the global, national and regional economies for 2009.

Speakers:

Stuart G. Hoffman, Chief Economist, The PNC Financial Services Group

Richard B. Hoey Chief Economist, Bank of New York Mellon

Alan R. Miciak, Dean, Palumbo School of Business Administration and Donahue Graduate School of Business, Duquesne University - Moderator


WHEN: Tuesday, January 13, 2009
WHERE: Omni William Penn Hotel 11:45 AM – 1:15 PM, Downtown Pittsburgh
COST: Members: $30, Non-Members: $40 Students: $20.00



LIMITED SEATING-- RESERVATIONS ARE REQUIRED



Please make your reservations by email to reservations@econclubpgh.org no later than January 9, 2009.

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Monday, January 05, 2009

View from the bench

News is that the county had something of a setback on the legal front with the ruling that the 'drink tax' revenue can only be used for funding PAT and not other transit-related projects however defined. Not sure that ruling will stand on appeal, but for now it poses some interesting questions for the county. Some see this as a victory that will lead to the elimination of the tax. I am not sure there is anything in the ruling that says the excess revenues can't still go to the Port Authority. I am sure there are innumerable needs let alone potential shortfalls in state funding due to escalating revenue shortfalls in Harrisburg.

Given how effective the drink tax has been locally at collecting revenue without all that much displacement, it's conceivable that the state may look toward higher alcohol taxes as a means to fill their budget problems. That's just speculation, but statewide alcohol taxes don't suffer from the argument that folks are likely to drive consumers across county borders to make their purchases. Some near other states may buy alcohol elsewhere, but if PA's state run liquor distribution system isn't causing that already I am not sure more tax is going to all of a sudden create an exodus of bar patrons to WV, OH, or NY. If Allegheny County alone collected $44 million from the incremental drink and rental taxes even during a defined recession, a statewide version would cover a lot of that statewide budget gap all by itself.

But I am wondering if it going to be the year of the lawyer for the county, and I am an not talking about billboards at all. Some big legal rulings that are in the pipeline. An odd number of search engines hits here of late for terms mentioning Judge Wettick in one form or another. I am just wondering when the State Supreme Court is going to rule on the county's appeal of Judge Wettick's ruling that threw out the base year assessment system currently in place.

Is a ruling getting closer? That would be state-wide news and many counties are already fretting over potential reassessments. Even though Wettick's ruling was against Allegheny County's use of the base year system, if his ruling is validated by the supreme court it could force changes across the state. Tick toc.

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Sunday, January 04, 2009

2,562 2,561

A little bit of news from last week: Pennsylvania now has one fewer municipality. The Borough of West Alexander in Washington County merged with the township of Donnegal, officially leaving Pennsylvania with one fewer municipality. Not to worry, the merger leaves Pennsylvania with 2,561 municipalities. Also unaffected are 514 school districts and 1,728 special district governments. No need yet to set up a support group for displaced former local government officials.

I really wonder how many of those 2,561 municipalities really function much at all. Plenty have no police service, minimal services of any kind and minimal expenditures on even essential infrastructure. Years ago former County Controller Frank Lucchino explored an idea still virtually unheard of in Pennsylvania: the voluntary disincorporation of municipalities. Even if the law does make de jure disincorporation easy, I bet as a matter of what is actually happening on the ground, de facto disincorporation is happening.

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Saturday, January 03, 2009

manufacturing numbers

So the Pittsburgh Biz Times has an editorial that is trying to say manufacturing is still the driving sector of the local economy. The key fact showing this comes in this quote:

But it (manufacturing) remains a vital part of the local economy. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the region had 98,000 manufacturing jobs in November — nearly double the 53,400 in health and education services, industries often cited as the future of Pittsburgh employment.

Problem is that the 53,400 number is actually just the employment number for one sub-sector, specifically: "General Medical and Surgical Hospitals". The BLS is actually reporting that the total current employment in the region's "health and education services" sector is 236,600 or roughly 240% of the size of the entire manufacturing sector. So even before we talk about what the present trends are in the two sectors, the numbers are backwards.

Thus the logic of the editorial seems to lead to the exact opposite conclusion than is intended. Not that I actually agree with either version of that argument. My opinion is that there isn't any one sector that rises to the level of importance that steel once had here. So this isn't about whether we still are a manufacturing region or not, or a health and education region or not. The economy now and in the future will only move forward if it builds competitiveness across a range of industries that are able to adapt and change as the world changes.

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Friday, January 02, 2009

Who will fill Dan Deasy's shoes?

As the PG points out, this coming Monday is the registration deadline for the special election that will be held for City Council District 2. I am a little curious whether any of the historic voter turnout from the fall spills over to off-cycle elections like this. Special elections typically have some of the lowest turnouts when they occur. The number of folks who could decide this race might be quite small.

Do you live in City Council District 2? Here is an interactive map of City Council District 2 in Google Maps. The KML file can be downloaded and run directly in Google Earth as well.


View Larger Map

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Thursday, January 01, 2009

bus begone

Mentioned earlier, but now picked up by the City Paper. If I let myself, I would rant incessantly on this, some things just are not right. If you didn't see it, read the City Paper this week on how buses are being banished from some local malls. I honestly don't understand how this is legal, and if it is it shouldn't be.

Actually it is quite remarkable. If you think for a second any of this has to do with 'road damage', go and read the original Post-Gazette article on this, the mall was quite clear that they had banished the buses because of the people
At one time, the authority hailed mall management for being so accommodating to public transit. Over the years, the mall has complained that while the buses bring workers and patrons to its stores, they also bring a number of people who basically loaf and spend little money. (emphasis added)

Funny no mention of 'road damage' in that article at all. Grata knew the score. I also wonder how many mall patrons are there just to 'loaf' and what percentage of them come by bus. No mall rats with their parents' cars I suppose.

Is it legal? I guess it is since I don't see anyone threatening litigation. But you would think zoning laws would require large (often publicly subsidized) malls be required to let the public in. Even if not direct public subsidies, I bet any development that large had public road or other forms of infrastructure moved to accommodate it's existence.

Finally, I don't understand why the workforce development types are not making noise on this. It seems that after decades of kind of ignoring what has been a major issue elsewhere there is more and more talk locally about the issue of about spatial mismatch here. Well, here is just about as clear a case as you can get on why transportation matters to jobs. And in this case it's all about this artificial reason that 'the bus does not stop here'.

It's more than just jobs. Illyrias was ahead of me, but there has been greater push to put social service and other government functions into malls across the country because that is where the people are these days. Can't really place those things in a location that is inaccessible to the populations being served. Deep down I suspect the goal is to get those non- commercial activities to move out more than anything else and attacking the bus routing sounds at least a bit more palatable to the public than denying the lease for Goodwill for example.

Just one mall? Just one problem? It is one of those things that if one mall operator finds it possible to get away with this, more will follow. Some may be a bit more creative than others at it, but in the end the result will be much the same.

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